Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fall Kettle Day

Nate G, Bryan and Sarah K, and I headed up to the Kettle river to take advantage of the recent rains and fall colors. We were greeted with warm weather, warm winds, and banks lined with gold and red leaves that would rain down whenever the wind blew. The level was around 3', which is high enough to be fun, but not high enough to give us anything to worry about.

For Nate, it was a return to paddling after a summer filled with work, training for the Twin Cities Marathon (way to go!), and loads of other activities.

For Bryan and Sara, it was their first time on the Kettle since just after Canoe U, and their first time seeing it at anything other than scrapey low water.

The Kettle is one of my favorite midwest rivers, largely because it's so different at every level. Today was great play at Blueberry (the wave/hole in the middle of the rapid was just like a 15' wide version of Donut), followed by some good-sized wave trains in each of the lower rapids. I was able to hit a nice wave-wheel in the wave train below Dragon's tooth, and we got some cartwheel practice in at the nearly-washed out Last Chance Ledge. Everyone also got to practice their stern squirts at the rock outcroppings between the Tooth and Hell's Gate.

Sara Had a big day, getting her first taste of bigger water and hitting 12' Wolf Creek Falls! She ran it twice, with a perfect landing on the second one. She used my boat for the drop, so don't let the green color fool you.

Bryan K had an awesome day as well. He was snapping up combat rolls with confidence and leading the group run-and-gun style down some of the rapids. He also made two good runs on the Falls and had some surfs on the glassy wave at Blueberry.

I had a good day surfing blueberry and playing in the wave trains, but my cockiness got the better of me at Wolf Creek. I have run the drop many times and have never had an issue (except coming up in the middle of a tree once). This spring I decided to run it backwards, and it went great with a soft and smooth landing. Tried the same trick today, but with very different results. I went over the falls and hit the pool pretty vertical. I felt the impact of hitting the water, but in the commotion of landing didn't notice anything too strange. I bobbed up vertically and the boat flipped upside down. I rolled up and heard Nate saying how I'd Piton'd and what a loud noise it made. I disputed that, saying that the noise must have been the boat hitting the water. Later I looked at my boat and saw that the back left corner was bent upwards about 15 degrees from what it should be. No cracks, no creases, just a slightly different shape than it was before. I guess Nate was right about the Piton. The good news is that it basically just gives me more stern rocker on that side, so left-handed spins should be even easier now!

Bent boat aside, it was a great day with surprisingly great weather. Hopefully we'll have a few more before Old Man Winter takes hold. Thanks to everybody for taking the pics, and especially to Nate for sending me the ones from his camera so quickly.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Fall Colors

A cold night, a beautiful day, and some great rapids made for a fun trip to the Wolf. Bryan K, Sara, Pike, Dennis, and I headed to the newly-rebuilt Bear Paw on Friday night and ran Section IV on Saturday.

Friday night was quite chilly, with lows in the mid-twenties. We stoked up a nice campfire, put on some extra layers, and Dennis and I bored the others with paddling stories for a while. The night was crystal clear and the stars were out in full view. Despite the temps, we had a great time. Bryan and Sara (and their puppy) got to test their new tent in style. It must have performed well because no one had hypothermia come Saturday morning.

We started fairly early Saturday, meeting at Big Smokey at 9 to get our bracelets and shuttle. Speaking of bracelets, the price has gone up from years past - $30 fee + $5 deposit on the bracelet. The temp was still just above freezing, but the sun was out and warmed you up whenever it hit you.

Our shuttle driver was kind enough to drop us off at Sullivan's falls so we could avoid the 1.5 miles of flatwater from the normal put-in. Everyone ran Sullivan's, and everyone did great. For Pike, Sarah, and Bryan, it was their first real waterfall! After everyone did it once, we talked about how to Boof, then everyone ran it again to try the new move.

The Ducksnest rapids went by quickly enough and we surfed a bit at Dave's Wave before stopping to eat and bask in the sun at lunch rock. Perfectly clear blue skies helped the temp warm up nicely.

Everyone flew through the Upper Dells, and Bryan nailed a solid combat roll between the two holes at the bottom. The lower dells were more interesting and the group split with half taking the rock-tongue in the middle, and half taking the double drop channel on river right. The hole at the bottom of the tongue caused a couple flips (including an unintentional cartwheel), but everyone did great and there were no swims.

Big Smokey was where we noticed the shallow water the most. There were virtually no eddies in the entire slide leading up to the falls, and at one point the water was only about a boat-and-a-half wide. It was a bit hairy at that point because that tiny amount of water pushed right into one of the protruding rocks and it looked very much like you were going to smack into it. The tiny reaction pillow saves the day, however, and all faces remained intact.

The level was about 190. The rapids were all very passable, with Big Smokey being the most affected by far. There was little play, but it was a fun level for river running.

On a fun note, Pike bought a boat! Bear Paw had everything on sale (most is 20% off if anybody's interested), and they were getting rid of their demo boats. Pike wanted to pick up a creeker, and after trying on a couple different boats picked a red Jackson Hero. It should be a good fit between his Piedra and his EZ. They've also got a like-new Burn demo on sale for $700 if anyone's shopping for one...

Speaking of Bear Paw, I was floored by the path the tornado left. I knew it was serious (it was an F4), but I've never seen anything like that. There's a perfect path 100 yards wide (guessing on the distance) like someone cleared a highway through the woods. There's no transition area or buffer, just a perfectly clear-cut path that looks like loggers came through. Sadly, the path perfectly and completely enveloped the old Bear Paw. Happily, the parts that they've finished rebuilding are great, and there's tons of free firewood. Plus, it's the same super friendly and helpful people running the place. Good to see them rebounding so well.